Tag Archives: insights

Overcoming Living Abroad Challenges

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We often learn about all the adventurous and joyful stories of studying abroad. But what happens when life gets in the way? Studying and living abroad are very exciting life experiences, but they come with challenges. Below are some of the common challenges I have faced and insights about how to overcome them to make the most of your time abroad.

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Source: expatexchange.com

Insomnia: Time differences and foreign beds make insomnia a likely occurrence when moving abroad, especially when you first arrive to the destination. I experienced this intensely when I studied in Spain a few years ago. It took me almost a week to adjust to the time difference! Now in Paris, it took me no time whatsover to adjust to the time difference. My secret this time was to not take a nap when I first arrived on a Thursday morning, and to instead go to bed early that evening. I have experienced insomnia in recent days, likely related to doing too much (e-mails, studying, blogs, social media, chatting with friends) before bed. This is common for me even at home so I need to remember to give myself time to disconnect and unwind before bed.

Adapting to food: With a new destination comes new cuisine and dietary habits. I like to call myself a fish for the large quantity of water I prefer to drink. In Europe, I have felt like I have been living in a dessert because of the small portions of liquids and tiny cups to fill with water. In class, I bring two cups of water to make sure I stay hydrated throughout the day. I encourage you to bring a water bottle that you can easily refill (assuming that water is sanitary in your destination). It is also challenging to adapt to the timing of meals, quantity of food, and food content. For example, in the United States, I am used to Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast at around 8am, a salad or sandwich for lunch at around 12pm, a protein bar at around 3pm, and meat/carbs/vegetables for dinner at 6:30pm. I have learned to let go of this expectation, as it is common to not eat snacks in France and to have dinner at 8pm (or 9pm for my host family). Despite Americans having a reputation for eating poorly, I have learned that I actually have access to more fruits and vegetables in the United States than in France. I have learned that Parisians often eat fruit as a dessert rather than a staple food for meals. Vegetables are often cooked or are prepared in soups rather than in the form of a salad. I have adapted to this custom, but also make sure to purchase salads and fruit when I eat at restaurants. Enjoying the local cuisine is part of learning process of living abroad, but make sure that you maintain a balanced diet to keep your digestive system in check!

Living with a host family and cultural differences: This is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself into a new language and culture! However with that immersion comes the expectation that you will adjust your routines and adapt your behaviors to mesh well with your new family. It is sometimes difficult to let go of everything you know. Before moving abroad, I encourage you to research your new destinations and customs. For example, it is an adjustment for Americans to get used to the French greeting of a kiss on each cheek, rather than a handshake. The more informed you are about the new culture before arriving, the more mentally prepared you will feel. However, don’t be afraid of the unexpected – this is part of the adventure! I am still trying to figure out why my host family closes every door of every room in the house – but I am starting to realize it is a habit of privacy, which is less common in the United States and respectable in some ways. Adaptability is one of the most important life skills, especially in the ever-changing global world where we live.

Keeping in touch with loved ones: Time differences and new schedules make it difficult to contact our loved ones. However, modern technology has been a God-sent in our mobile world. My favorite communication tools are WhatsApp (free international messaging and calling) and Facebook messenger (which now allows international calling). I also plan Skype dates with friends and family to have an “as-close-as-possible” experience to chatting in-person. Postcards also seem to be a more thoughtful approach to staying in touch, since they take more effort and are a flashback to the past of international communication. I encourage you to use all the new applications, but don’t forget to be a little old-fashioned and send postcards, letters, and packages to stay in touch with your loved ones!

Making friends: This is often what intimidates people the most when moving abroad, especially because of language and culture barriers. A university setting caters to social networking with planned activities and field trips for students. For those outside of the university setting, check out http://www.meetup.com which provides networking groups related to any and all topics (local events, sports, arts, dating, etc.). I have enjoyed attending expat events in Paris, which includes expats from around the world. We can all relate to the adjustments involved in moving to Paris! Also, for those hoping to learn local languages, check out conversation circles. Especially if you speak English, many countries have conversation exchanges between English and the local language. I look forward to trying this in Paris. It is a win-win for me to practice French and help others practice English!

For those of you considering or in the process of moving abroad, you may face these challenges like I have, but I hope that you remember with any challenge comes a solution. Now that more and more people are moving abroad, there are more advice articles than ever before. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about moving abroad!

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Enlightenment from Living in Paris

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Approaching my first two weeks abroad, I already feel that I have had substantial time to reflect on my adventure in Paris. As expected, I have learned a great deal about the French language and culture while in class, living with my host family, visiting tourist sites, and exploring the city. More significantly, though, I have learned about myself and how I can apply my Parisian mindset to my daily life. Below I have captured some of the key lessons that have enlightened me while living abroad in Paris.

  • Eat to enjoy, not to indulge. Many Parisians eat bread and cheese at every meal, and chocolates or pastries after every lunch and dinner. Most of our waistlines are saying “no fair! How is that possible?” This seems contrary to all diet rules we have heard. I eat sweets almost every day now, including crepes with Nutella, creme brulee filled chocolate, coconut cookies, and chocolate waffles. One significant observation is that the portions are a quarter of the size of those in the United States. The smaller portions are encouraging me to enjoy each morsel, rather than feel full after eating sweets. My host sister told me that the average French woman’s BMI is 19, which is on the verge of being underweight.  This reminds me that portion control is key. Rather than restraining ourselves and then indulging too much, we should allow ourselves to enjoy small portions and satisfy our cravings.
  • Look to appreciate, not to just see. Notice differences between your new destination and your home, and learn from them! Tourists are often better at looking to appreciate than locals, especially because tourists experience a series of “firsts” when traveling: “first time seeing the Eiffel Tower,” “first time cruising on the Seine River,” etc. For those living abroad, it becomes easy to overlook our surroundings. We may walk past monuments without appreciating their history. Or we may drive home from work when the sun is setting without noticing the beautiful sky. With the opportunity to visit Paris a second time, and now fully engage with the city as a student, I am focused on appreciating all of my surroundings. I am taking several photos to capture memories. I am reading every sign and researching the significance of the buildings, monuments, and streets around me (centuries of history I should mention). This appreciative outlook is helping me become more understanding of the French culture. I also feel more grateful for the small things that bring me joy and empowered to face adversity in my daily life.
  • Listen to understand, not to judge. While traveling and especially while living abroad, we are constantly encountering new people, which means new perspectives. In various conversations, we will likely hear things that enlighten us, surprise us, or even enrage us when living abroad. I’m surprised by home many expats in Paris I’ve met who have said, “You’re American, why do you need to learn French?” Or “Why are you traveling in Europe? I thought Americans only stayed in the U.S.” I have chosen to listen to their questions respectfully and respond with my genuine interests and goals about learning French. I realized that according to this stereotype about Americans, I might be rare for having the travel bug, eager to learn new languages, and explore new cultures. Rather than judging their assumptions, I am working to be an American ambassador, demonstrating that many Americans do in fact enjoy learning about other languages and cultures.

On a separate but similar note, traveling often forces us to take the role of listener. Particularly when we are learning a new language,  we are still learning how to formulate words to contribute (confidently) to a conversation. This intensive listening is a good exercise particularly for those of us who often voice our opinions. Without having to (or being able to) speak, we become more understanding and less apt to make quick judgments in a conversation.

  • Speak to communicate, not to fight. The world is full of hateful words, and it is easy for us to engage in a fight. We can be more effective by having the objective to communicate and foster understanding in a conversation. This became more apparent to me when I visited the Place Republique in Paris, which has a monument with a memorial for the terrorist attacks in January and November 2015. The memorial speaks volumes about the pain the French felt when attacked over the past year. Hundreds of candles, photos, poems, and letters surround the monument, voicing the Parisian’s sadness, values, and dreams for the future. The memorial has a way of communicating powerful words that inspire the world, rather than engaging in a fight. If we truly want to end the war on terrorism, we need to disengage from the “dirty fight,” respect each other, and not fall victim to the endless fear that terrorists are hoping to provoke. I have faith that goodness will prevail, especially if we can effectively communicate with eachother throughout the world.
  • Live to experience, not to achieve. Every year, I have come closer to the realization that life is a series of experiences, and not necessarily achievement milestones. With the expectation that we will have a series of experiences (and not just accomplishments), we will no longer fear failure. One of my favorite quotes that I recently read was by Nikola Tesla: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” We will go through ups and downs, all of which combine to create the experience of life. My time in Paris has been a great example of this “experience” mindset. My first weekend in Paris I went the wrong way on the metro a few times, but it made me learn the “ins and outs” of the metro before beginning school. My phone died a few times and I didn’t have a charger, but it reminded me to pause and look with my own eyes rather than the eyes of my iPhone camera and social media pages. Despite all the changes and new beginnings in 2016, I have a sense of calm within me, solely because I am enjoying considering both positive and negative moments as life experiences.

I hope these inspirNational lessons I have learned while living in Paris can inspire you too. What other enlightenment have you experienced while living abroad?

Insights from Moving

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Relieved to say that I am finally all settled in my new home in Columbia, South Carolina! The past two weeks have been very busy preparing to move, saying goodbye to loved ones in Cleveland, traveling to South Carolina, unpacking, and preparing for international business school.

The moving process has brought mixed emotions, sweat and tears, and hopeful anticipation of my new journey in the southern United States. In the stress of moving, I was reminded to find joy (inspired by my friends, and family) in order to make the transition as pleasant as possible. Below are some of the great insights I have gained from completing my first cross-country move:

1. Moving helps us declutter, organize, and prioritize our belongings. We may not be able to bring that favorite stuffed animal or antique vase we have had with us for years. While we may feel sad to leave it behind, we can donate it and provide joy to others.

Source: Avro Moving

Source: Avro Moving

2. Moving provides us with the opportunity to revisit our travel trinkets and favorite clothes and accessories, reminding us of our favorite memories from our adventures. We can think of packing as a time to reflect on all of our past experiences, providing us with closure as we transition to the next step in our journey.

3. Moving teaches us how to turn any place from “house” to “home.” By adding our own personal touches, decorations, and photos, any place can feel like “home.” We can seek the familiar to make us comfortable like we are at home. For example, in the United States, I have learned that it is comforting to see similar stores across states. My favorite superstore, Target, and my favorite pharmacy, CVS, are everywhere,  which makes moving across the country less intimidating.

4. Moving enables us to refresh who we are and who we want to be. We can adjust our daily routines to improve our health and happiness, seek out new hobbies, and learn new cultures from our local surroundings. We can take a deep breath of new fresh air and start the day remembering “carpe diem.” We can make a place what we want it to be.

I hope these insights provide you with an inspirNational mindset to help you as you move now or in the future. I am reminded of one of my previous posts, Bloom Where You Are Planted, which I will remember as I get established in Columbia. With moving season upon us, good luck as many of you make the exciting life transition!

From Explorer to Settler

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InspirNational readers: We all love to explore and travel, but how do we decide where to settle? Thank you to Hunter Reams for writing this guest post with some great insights about choosing where to settle.


There are countless blogs and advice columns on traveling and exploring the world. While we all love being an explorer, at the end of the day, or at the end of a great vacation, we need a place to call home. Deciding where you want to settle down can be one of the most difficult decisions. From affordability to an awesome job market, many variables impact your decision on that place that you can call home. I have narrowed down my top criteria in making the all-important decision of where to plant your roots.

Job Opportunities
Job opportunities vary from state to state and region to region, and this is a very important variable as it is the foundation upon which you will prosper. I believe that the best place to start your “quest to settle” is to analyze the job market. If you work in investment banking, New York City will be much more likely to have opportunities than Gary, Indiana. Or if you are interested in supply chain management for oil, Texas and North Dakota may have the best opportunities. Network with friends, network online, network some more, and search for the employment opportunities that will make you happy. Once you have located either specific jobs or areas that have a demand for your expertise, narrow your search area to those places. This way, you will be much more likely to be financially stable, and derive the most enjoyment out of your new location!

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Family and Friends
If family and friends play a major role in your life, you may not want to locate far away from them. While social media and communications technology have made it much easier to stay connected over long distances, it is nonetheless very difficult to live far from your closest circle. Personally, this is a particularly difficult criterion as my parents relocated to a remote Appalachian city, while my friends and extended family are in Michigan/Ohio…When analyzing this variable; keep in mind the age/health of your family and friends, as well as the possibilities of them relocating. If you are looking to settle away from friends and family, consider living in areas that are near airports or other forms of public transportation to help you stay connected.

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Climate and Geography
If you love the beach, should you focus on living beachside? If you want to ski every day, should you narrow your search to mountainous regions? Do you want to live right by the Detroit Tigers’ stadium so you can get season tickets to the games? Both the climate and geographic region play a huge role in determining your hobbies, behaviors, and activities. A good way to analyze this variable is to write down all of the hobbies and activities that make you happy, and determine if each geographic location can cater to them. If you absolutely cannot go a week without playing golf, then living in Maine would not be a great idea. If you love the snow and four seasons, then maybe Florida is not the right place for you. This variable should not be overlooked because you can find employment, affordable housing, good education systems, and culture all throughout the country. But certain geographic locations have characteristics that others do not possess. (i.e oceans, warm weather, sports teams). Choose wisely when determining what geographic locations can best satisfy your needs.

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Population and Culture
I grouped population and culture together because I have traveled to many large American cities and have yet to find one that does not offer plenty of culture. On the other hand, the majority of small cities do not possess as many offerings of cultural stimulation. If you crave the variety of cultural foods, music, atmosphere, ambience, etc. then living in cities like New York, Los Angeles or Miami would be a great fit. Those cities are full of vibrant offerings that will keep any cultural sommelier happy. If cultural diversity is not as important to you, then a small town or suburb will likely be a good match.

Population is also an important factor because life in a small town is much different than living in a suburb, which is much different than living in a large city. Having lived in all three, I will share my opinions per population size:

If you enjoy seeing neighbors at the local grocery store and enjoy being a bigger fish in a small pond, then the small town life may be for you. Living in a small town provides a sense of community – you feel like you truly are part of the town. There are also fewer worries about crime, traffic, other annoyances, and the ability to frequently see friends and family at the local restaurants, churches, and stores. Additionally, it is typically much more affordable and land is abundant. The biggest disadvantages to small town life are the lack of amenities, culture, and job opportunities. In the town I lived in for 6 months, there was very little to do, not much shopping/entertainment, and lack of cultural exposure among many of the people. The town did not have any major corporation and held very few job opportunities for a young college graduate. I believe that living in a small town is best suited for those that want a slower pace of life, close-knit community, and more privacy. Families, retirees, and those who love the outdoors are best suited for the small town.

Growing up in a suburb provided a great mix of the small town and bigger city. While I could travel into Detroit for sports games and concerts, I also could retreat back to the safety and privacy that the suburb provided. There were great job opportunities in the suburb itself and in the surrounding cities. I feel that the biggest disadvantage to suburban life is that there is not the abundance of culture/entertainment that one finds in a big city, and it also lacks the land and community involvement compared to a small town. Some may find that suburbs are unsatisfyingly mediocre. I believe that suburbs are the most ideal location for families and those that want a comfortable lifestyle.

Life in the big city has the advantages of all the amenities you can ask for; lots of entertainment and culture, and tons of employment opportunities. Cities often have public transits systems that eliminate the need for a car and a short bike ride or walk can get you to where you need to be. I feel that the biggest drawbacks to living in a larger city are the lack of nature, expenses, small fish in a big pond, crime, and annoyances such as traffic and higher taxes. I believe that the big city is best suited for young professionals and those that want to experience a fast paced lifestyle with tons of culture and diversity.

Overall, small towns, suburbs, and larger cities all have pros and cons. It is important to discover what makes you happy, and find a place that works for you!

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Longevity
My final variable in making the decision to settle down is longevity. It is important to grasp an understanding on long-term variables that will be important to you. Education systems, healthcare, governmental benefits and taxes, real estate markets – these things are easy to overlook when you are 25 and excited to start your career in a new place. But in a few short years when all of your friends and colleagues are starting families, these variables can become extremely important, if not determinative. So when making your decision on where to settle down, keep in mind that your priorities will likely change. To help analyze this factor, reaching out to family members or friends who are at a later stage in life may be of help. Ask them what they look for when relocating, and the best ways of ascertaining that information. This way, you are not only preparing for the present, but also for the future.

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Final Word
Overall, there is no right decision and that is a beautiful thing! You cannot make a wrong choice, only choose a different path. Do your diligences, discover what makes you happy, and then go for it!

InspirNational Insights from Senior Citizens

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Holidays bring families together and are one of the unique times that we spend with multiple generations. As I go through transitions in my life, I seek insights from those older than me based on their life experiences. With Easter weekend behind us, I focused on the senior generations (my grandparents and their friends) for some wisdom. When I think about how many changes I’ve faced in my quarter-century life, I can only imagine how many changes the senior generations have faced, in terms of their families, friends, careers, health, technology, and societal trends. I find it interesting that my generation, the one preparing to climb the corporate ladder, the future leaders of business, government, and healthcare, are so focused on the climb and comparing ourselves to others. While I am equally guilty of this, I think it’s time to take a step back and think like the senior generations. Over the weekend, I was reminded of the priorities and mindset of many senior citizens, which I describe below:

  1. Protect and be grateful for your health. Health is the only aspect of life that guarantees we can live. I find when I ask my grandparents how they are doing, they first discuss their health and say some variation of “I am grateful to be alive.”
  2. Put your relationships (family, friends, significant others) above all else. The people in your life are who will share your happy moments and your challenges with you and will be there for you when you are in need. Visiting two nursing homes this weekend reminded me that what brightens the seniors’ days is not how successful they were or how wealthy they were, but how many family members and friends they have to enjoy the adventure of life.
  3. Take each day as it comes. There is only so much planning and anticipating we can do. While planning for the future is a good idea, dwelling on fears about the future is a waste of energy and instead we should focus on finding joy today.
  4. Do what makes you happy. Only you know what that means and only you can control your mindset about what each day brings you. As the old saying says, money doesn’t buy you happiness. It may be your family or friends, your hobbies, your career, your faith, etc. Regardless of what brings you happiness, make sure it is part of your daily life no matter what life stage you are in.
Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

I hope we all can appreciate these thoughts and seek wisdom from the generations older than us, who have interesting stories and important life insights to share. Interested to learn more? Check out this Daily Mail article.